There has been an explosion of electronic media in recent times and rather than just reading and writing we are now spending significantly more time looking at electronically produced information. All this means that we are spending much more time concentrating at near distance in a sustained way over extended periods of time. This is especially true in the younger generation and raises serious concerns for developing eyes and visual systems.
Research shows that 40 percent of 3 to 4 year olds use the home computer each day. Ninety percent of 15 year olds have mobile phones and more and more phones are now able to access the internet and social networking sites.
By age 12 children on average spend over two hours per day watching TV and two hours more on computer. By 18 these times have increased by another two hours. Additional school time and time spent on mobile phones mean that concentrated indoor tasks account for a significant percentage of waking hours.
Time spent on social networking sites has increased significantly in the last two years, and with this comes an increase in visual difficulties associated with using electronic media.
This has spawned the term "Computer Vision Syndrome".
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No Visual System is Perfect
Computers in themselves do not cause any damage to your eyes in terms of eye health or visual skills, but computer use is very visually demanding and will highlight any existing visual deficits.
Using computers means you have to:
- Focus at one distance for long periods
- Keep a posture that is not the same as most other visual tasks
- Sit and attend for long periods
- Look at a bright screen that may be flickering
- Focus on electronically produced print that may be flickering
There is no research that shows that looking at a computer screen all day will actually create vision or eye problems. In fact research has shown that computer use will highlight any underlying problems that may pre-exist.
Signs of Trouble
You may experience some or all of the following:
- Eye strain
- Distance blur after computer use
- Dry, red or itchy eyes
When we spend prolonged periods staring at screens, the visual system can Exhibit signs of stress such as discomfort around the eyes or distance vision not appearing as clear as it normally is.
There are a number of proactive measures you can take to ensure your eyes Feel fresher and to protect your vision into the future.
Headaches after prolonged computer use may seem like they are due to eye problems, but poor posture may actually be the cause. Be aware of this, relax and breathe. Sit up straight. The screen distance should be arm’s length for desktop computers, a little more than reading distance for laptops, and tablets should be the same as reading matter - forearm distance from your nose.
Looking at a screen all day will mean that your eyes are focussing at just one distance. This would be the same as holding your arm horizontally without moving all day - would be tiring wouldn’t it? Well that’s what you’re asking your eyes to do when looking at a computer screen. Looking away from your screen and getting up for a break every now and then will help keep your eyes rested.
Behavioural Optometrists recommend taking breaks from computers, phones and tablets every 15 – 20 minutes to keep the eye muscles moving. Look up, focus on other objects around you, close your eyes and roll them widely a few times before resuming work.
Ensure the room lighting is similar to the screen brightness.
Some people find glare more of a problem than others. If you can’t adjust the screen to a level that is comfortable, you should see a Behavioural Optometrist who can assess your binocular visual system and advise what is best for you.
Don't Over-Do It
Vision develops better during activities such as reading and active play. Alternate periods of intense screen viewing with periods of outdoor play or sport, which require distance vision.
How can a Behavioural Optometrist Help?
- They will discuss your specific requirements for computer use.
- They will test and assess your focus and eye alignment systems.
- They will check that your binocular vision system can maintain visual attention for periods of time.
Solutions may include:
- Spectacles for computer use
- Vision therapy
- Visual hygiene advice
- Drops for dry eyes
If you are short sighted (myopic) a Behavioural Optometrist can advise whether it is best to remove your glasses for sustained computer use. Behavioural Optometrists recommend that the entire family have their vision checked every two years, regardless of whether there is a vision problem or not. A regular eye test will reveal signs of eye strain and diseases, and ensure that the visual system is functioning optimally.
Frequently Asked Questions
So, What is Behavioural Optometry?
Behavioural Optometry is many things to many people even within the profession. The common link is the understanding of vision and how to encourage its development. It tends to be more holistic in its approach as it tries to incorporate the physical, neurological and developmental aspects of vision.
How is a Behavioural Optometrist Different?
Behavioural Optometrists spend years in post-graduate and continuing education to master the complex visual programs that are prescribed to prevent or eliminate visual problems and enhance visual performance.
Not all optometrists practice Behavioural Optometry, which includes neurodevelopmental and functional optometry.
How do I find a Behavioural Optometrist?
Go to http://www.acbo.org.au/search to find one in your local area.
Ask the Following Questions:
- Do you assess and treat children?
- Do you test their vision at the reading/writing distance?
- Will you provide a report on your findings?
- Do you offer vision therapy, or do you refer to someone who does if it is indicated?
Is Behavioural Optometry covered by Medicare or Private Health Insurance?
Most initial consultation fees fall under the scope of Medicare. More specific services and Vision Therapy may or may not. It is essential to discuss this with your Behavioural Optometrist prior to commencing any program.